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Friday, August 14, 2015

Here There Be Dragons...

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

I have long been a fan of fantasy novels, at least since I was ten years old and read The Chronicles of Narnia for the first time.  It really shouldn't be a surprise that I've read a lot of fantasy over the past two years while on hiatus from this blog. Much of it was middle grade or young adult fiction, which means I can now share these books here! If you, too, love to read about dragons, castles, witches, werewolves, and more, here are some books that I recommend:

Middle-grade fantasy:

The Reluctant Dragon,
written by Kenneth Grahame, 1898
and illustrated by Michael Hague, 1988

An amiable dragon (with a love of poetry) befriends a shepherd boy. But when the townspeople find out about the dragon, they enlist St. George, dragon slayer, to get rid of it. How can the boy save his friend's life and help St. George keep his hero status?

I remember watching the short Disney film The Reluctant Dragon when I was a little girl. When I was older, we bought the video for our own kids and watched it several times. It wasn't my favorite film ever, by any means, but I thought it was cute. At the time, I didn't realize that the film was based on a book. Then, about a year ago, I just happened to spot the book at our library one day. I saw that it was written by Kenneth Grahame, who is most known for writing The Wind in the Willows, which I love. I decided to bring the book home -- and I'm glad that I did. Grahame tells his story in rich language that just begs to be read aloud. And, as is the case with most books that are later turned into movies, I much prefer the book!


Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy,
written by Karen Foxlee, 2014

A contemporary reworking of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen", this story begins with eleven-year-old Ophelia in the museum where her father has just been hired, in a town where it always snows. Ophelia is supposed to stay close to her older sister Alice but she wanders off, looking at all the unusual collections inside.  Near the sea monster mosaic floor, she discovers a strange, nameless boy locked in a room who implores Ophelia to help save the world.

I read this book in one sitting and immediately recommended it to my son Ben once I'd finished. (He hasn't read it yet, but it is next on his "to-read" list.) I enjoyed Foxlee's writing -- her descriptions of the Snow Queen and the town where it always snows made me shiver with cold! I also loved the story, an exciting adventure that teaches Ophelia (and the reader) about bravery.


The Silver Bowl,
written by Diane Stanley, 2011

Seven-year-old Molly, considered a troublemaker by her father, is sent to be a scullery maid at the Castle Dethemere. Like her mother, Molly has the gift of "sight", the ability to see visions of the past and the future. (If anyone finds out about her visions, she'll be branded as a witch!) She eventually becomes a respected member of the castle staff, entrusted with polishing the King's silver. The trouble begins when Molly goes to polish a silver bowl. Touching it, she sees visions of an ancient curse on the royal family. Can Molly prevent tragedy and save the kingdom of Westria?

I found this to be a charming book for younger middle-grade readers. I especially liked the fact that the main character is a strong (though young) female.  The Silver Bowl trilogy also includes The Cup and the Crown (2012) and The Princess of Cortova (2010); I have not read these books yet, but would like to someday!


The Magic Thief
(and the rest of The Magic Thief series),
written by Sarah Prineas, 2008

"A thief is a lot like a wizard. I have quick hands. And I can make things disappear. But then I stole the wizard's locus magicalicus and nearly disappeared myself forever." So begins The Magic Thief series.

Conn is a young thief in the city of Wellmet, and touching the wizard Nevery's magic stone should have killed him. For some reason, it doesn't. Curious, Nevery takes Conn on as his apprentice. Why is the boy able to touch the stone with no effect? And who is stealing all the magic from the city of Wellmet?

Ben and I both found this to be an entertaining story and a quick read.  The Wellmet runes that can be found throughout the novel (including a key at the back) add an amusing touch, giving clues to the story. I went on to read some of the other books in The Magic Thief series: Lost (2009) and Found (2010); I liked them just as much as the first one. (Ben hopes to read them soon.) I still need to check out the remaining books, A Proper Wizard (2014) and Home (2014).


The False Prince (2012)
(and the rest of The Ascendence Trilogy),
written by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The king, queen, and crowned prince of Carthya have been murdered. The royal family's long-lost youngest son Jaron is presumed dead. Conner, a crafty nobleman, devises a plan to find a Jaron lookalike and install him as a puppet prince. He recruits four orphan boys to compete for the role, including Sage, narrator of the story. Sage questions Conner's motives and also understands that whoever is not chosen as the prince will likely be killed.

This is a fast-paced book, filled with action and adventure! I really liked Sage's character -- he is a clever boy with a quick wit and sharp tongue, but he also has a good heart. This is another book that I've recommended to Ben. The Ascendence Trilogy also includes The Runaway King (2013), which I read and enjoyed as much as the first book, and also The Shadow Throne (2014), which is on my "to read" list.


The Dragon's Tooth,
written by N. D. Wilson, 2011

Cyril Smith lives in a rundown motel with his older sister and brother. The three siblings have been running the motel ever since their father died and their mother slipped into a coma. One day, a strange man with bone tattoos shows up at the hotel. Mere hours later, the man dies, the motel burns to the ground, Cyril's brother Daniel goes missing, and the siblings are sent on a long journey to save the world against the forces of evil!

This is another action-packed novel. Despite that, I have to say that I liked all the other books in this post more than this one. I did still find it an intriguing story, however, and worthy of sharing here on this blog. The Ashtown Burials trilogy also includes The Drowned Vault (2012) and Empire of Bones (2013). I haven't read either one yet, but I have seen very positive reviews of these two books and they are on my "to read" list.


The Poisons of Caux: The Hollow Bettle,
written by Susannah Applebaum, 2009

An evil king rules over the kingdom of Caux where poisoning is the norm and it is common to employ a taster. The story begins as eleven-year-old Ivy Manx sets out to look for her uncle, the kingdom's last healer, who disappeared over a year ago. She is joined by her crow Shoo and Rowan, a young taster. Together they embark on a journey that is fraught with danger and intrigue.

I thought this was a fun novel!  I especially appreciated its wry humor and imagery. There are two more books in The Poisons of Caux trilogy which I hope to read soon: The Tasters Guild (2010) and The Shepherd of Weeds (2010).


Young adult fantasy:

Between the Lines,
written by Jodi Picoult & Samantha Van Leer, 2012

Have you ever dreamed of a character in a book coming to life and joining you in your world? That's just what happens to high schooler Delilah when her favorite fairy tale character, Prince Oliver, speaks to her one day as she's rereading his book....

This was a quick read and I liked the cute, light-hearted story. I have not yet read the sequel, Off the Page (2015), but I hope to do so soon. Though this is considered to be a young adult novel, keep in mind that it seems geared toward younger teens.  (Older teens and adults may appreciate it, too -- I certainly did. But if someone reads it expecting it to be written for a more mature audience, as the books mentioned below are, he/she may be disappointed.)


City of Bones
(and the rest of the The Mortal Instruments series),
written by Cassandra Clare, 2007

When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray and her best friend Simon visit a modern-day New York City club, Clary witnesses what she believes to be a murder. However, the victim's body vanishes into thin air and Clary seems to be the only one who can see his teen killers. She learns that the teens (Jace, Alec, and Isabelle) are Shadowhunters, warriors who hunt and kill demons, and that, as a "mundane" human, she should not be able to see any of them. Soon, both Clary and Simon are drawn into a supernatural world, filled with demons, vampires, werewolves, warlocks, fairies, and the Shadowhunters themselves.

I really enjoyed this book and also its sequels: City of Ashes (2008), City of Glass (2009), City of Fallen Angels (2011), City of Lost Souls (2012), and City of Heavenly Fire (2014).  Every time I finished one book, I couldn't wait to read the following one and see what happened next!


Clockwork Angel
(and the rest of the The Infernal Devices trilogy),
also written by Cassandra Clare, 2009

The Infernal Devices trilogy is a prequel for The Mortal Instruments series shown above and includes the books Clockwork Prince (2011) and Clockwork Princess (2013). Its story begins in 1878 as 16-year-old American Tessa Gray steps off the boat in England -- and is immediately kidnapped by the Dark Sisters. While being held prisoner, Tessa learns that she possesses the rare ability to take on the appearance of someone else, living or dead. This talent has attracted the eye of the mysterious Magister, who plans to marry Tessa, whether she likes it or not. On the evening before her wedding, Tessa is rescued by Will Herondale, a Shadowhunter.

I liked this series even more than I liked The Mortal Instruments, especially the final book, Clockwork Princess. I loved the mix of fantasy and history in this series.  I also appreciated how this story tied in to The Mortal Instruments, explaining the origins of different events, characters, and objects found in the modern-day story.


The following books are shelved in the adult section of my library, but I feel they also belong in the young adult section (for older teens), so I am including them in my post:

A Discovery of Witches
(and the rest of the All Souls Trilogy),
written by Deborah Harkness, 2011
I forgot to take a photo of the
book when I had it checked
out. This image is courtesy
 of Wikipedia.

While doing research at a library in Oxford, the historical scholar (and descendent of witches) Diana Bishop stumbles upon a manuscript that's been missing for 150 years. As soon as she touches it, Diana realizes that the text is magical. However, she has spent her life denying her witch heritage, and quickly returns the book before reading it, unaware that it is a very important text in the paranormal universe. Once returned, the book goes missing again. Soon, every witch, vampire, and daemon is searching for both Diana and the text, including the handsome geneticist (and vampire), Matthew Clairmont.

I absolutely loved this book and the others in the trilogy: Shadow of Night (2012) and The Book of Life (2014)! Not only does the trilogy fit into the fantasy genre, but it also has a healthy dose of historical fiction in it, another favorite genre of mine.  All three books held me spell-bound (pun intended); I couldn't put them down until I'd finished. This is a series that I plan on rereading, probably several times!


Have you read any of the books above?  If so, what did you think of them? What are some of your favorite fantasy novels? I am always looking for new books to read! :)

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